Sunday, January 29, 2017


Okay, so there has been a little less activity here lately, especially noticeable last Friday, for First Line Friday. The reason for that is I suddenly have a new book project to work on that kind of came out of no where. I am still reading and reviewing, but now I am also working on something really special that I am super excited for. I may not have as many reviews up in the next couple weeks, because even though I know my subject very well, there is always more to learn. Wish me luck!


Happy Reading!

Friday, January 20, 2017

First Line Friday!

It's First Line Friday!

This week my first line is from Hunting the President: Threats, Plots, and Assassination Attempts - from FDR to Obama. (Don't ask me why that weird hyphen is there; I have no idea.)


"President Roosevelt, the only president elected four times, who led America during the Great Depression and through World War II, was the target of would-be assassins who threatened to bomb his train, blow up the White House, and simply shoot him."

Leave your First Line below and then head over to my fellow First-Liners blogs to see what they have waiting for you this week!

Rachel - Bookworm Mama

Robin - Robin's Nest

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge


Rating: 4 Stars

I first learned of Selfridge from a PBS documentary in the last couple years and was forever intrigued by his story - particularly the part where he was eventually banned from his own store, the one he had worked so hard for decades to make into the ultimate shopping destination. He lived an incredible and interesting life, but came to a sad end in being forced out of his store. Selfridge's would not exist or have been as successful as it was without him, that much is obvious from the text. To have someone so forward-thinking, building his empire from the ground up, what a journey.

I not only learned about Selfridge and his own business, but a bit about the time period before he ventured out on his own when he worked at Marshal Field's in Chicago. Seeing Field's store in Chicago during and after the World's Fair in 1893 must have been amazing; Selfridge was very much the showman and the displays he put on must have been just amazing. I think about these times when the World's Fair was still a thing people went to see and department stores were still an all-day destination, and wonder if it would mean as much today? Now with news literally at our fingertips and social media galore, I don't know if these things would hold the same kind of wonder. I think technology has deprived us of a lot of really cool experiences, we are so desensitized to everything - not to mention the Mall of America and other mega malls kind of negate the whole 'department store experience'.

As an aside, which I seem to do a lot in my reviews recently, this book sparked my interest in the fair of 1893. My only knowledge of it thus far comes from this book and Erik Larson's fantastic Devil in the White City. Here I gained a bit more information though, and I will have to look into info about George Ferris, who debuted his Ferris Wheel at the fair, yet had to fund plans and construction costs himself. Due to that heavy burden, Ferris died just three years later alone in a hospital.

My only real gripe about this book has to do with photographs. I loved the ones that were included at the end of the text and being able to see the store and Selfridge in their primes was really cool. I only wish there had been MORE photos, and that they had been included within the text itself wherever the subject of the photo was being discussed, instead of all lumped together at the end. Looking back at my notes, I was already complaining about this in my notes, and that for all the fuss about how grand Selfridge's window displays were, there were zero photos. Given his positive relationship with the press, you know the photos have to exist in an archive somewhere. The author stated at one point that many of the displays "wouldn't look out of date today" (29%). Okay, so...where are they? I was also bothered by the fact that there were numerous mentions of these 12,000 architectural plans for the London store, yet no prints of the plans. Those would have been so cool to see and given the fact that there were so many of them, surely it would have been interesting to explore the differences in some of the plans.

I really kind of feel bad for Selfridge in regards to his personal life, especially in regards to his relationship with Jenny Dolly; what a horrible human being. Reading about some of his female companions and that aspect of his life was difficult, especially because he was so much older than him. On one hand, he made these decisions himself to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on them, but on the other hand given his advanced age, one has to wonder if he really was of sound mind. If not, these women were taking advantage of him. If he was, then I suppose he had the right to spend his money as he wished.

As the book neared its end, I felt bad for him, because I knew what was coming. For so many decades he was on the cutting edge of retail, built this magnificent empire, and made shopping an experience. The firing by his board still makes me angry, he built the place from nothing. Imagine how different things might have turned out for Marshall Field's, and Selfridge himself, had Field approved the name change to include Selfridge.

Overall, I found this an informative and interesting read. I have a bit of a soft spot for Selfridge because of how things ended, and I definitely recommend this read.

The Private Lives of the Tudors


Rating: 5 Stars

Do we really need another book about the Tudors? Of course we do, especially if it is one that is as well-researched and well-written as this effort by Tracy Borman. I like to consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the Tudor dynasty, and as such a lot of the information here were things I already knew. However, the strength of this book is that it really is an in-depth look at the lives behind the curtain, so to speak. The focus here is those closest to them, the clothing, hygiene, and of course that pesky question of Elizabeth's virginity. The fact that I took so few notes while I was reading is a testament to how much I enjoyed this book; I rarely stopped reading long enough to take many and did not realize this until I was in over 200 pages. It will make writing the review itself a bit tougher, as there was so much information to absorb. I really loved that the focus was on the daily lives of the Tudors and those close to them, not the wars or the political maneuverings so much as the things that made them human. It really was a fantastic and thorough read, but I expect nothing less from Borman.

One of the first subject in regards to their private lives comes in discussing pregnancy and birth in Tudor England. Reading about giving birth in that time never ceases to amaze and terrify me. I can't imagine having to go through the whole process; it was hard enough having a baby in 2013, even with medication! Though, to be fair, I had an emergency C-section and medication was kind of necessary. Some information in this section was new to me, and quite funny - such as the things pregnant women should not eat, do or LOOK AT. That's right, look at. If a woman looked at a hare, her child was sure to be born with a hare-lip, while gazing at the moon would make sure the baby was either a lunatic or sleepwalker (page 29). Oh, you silly Tudors. I am interested in reading more about pregnancy and birth, and these superstitions that were taken so seriously that we now consider silly and amusing. I also was interested to find actual information about who midwives were and what was considered qualifying factors for them to do the job.

"The Tudor version of a pregnancy test was to mix the woman's urine with wine, or alternatively to make her drink rainwater at night or eat honey with aniseed, both of which would bring pain to her stomach if she was pregnant" (page 38). This part was a bit unclear to me - and gross if I am understanding correctly. She was supposed to drink the urine/wine concoction? Ew.

I have read several books and articles in the last couple years that have tirelessly tried to use modern medicine to diagnose why Henry VIII went from the epitome of Renaissance Prince to a petty tyrant in his final years. The problem with this line of work is that we are talking about to vastly different centuries and it is all but impossible to truly make an accurate diagnosis. Borman states in regards to Henry VIII, "But the new king had an altogether darker side. Indulged in childhood, he had grown into a highly strung, impulsive, vain young man with a terrifying and unpredictable temper" (page 79). with descriptions like this, it is easy to see how he became the man he did in later years. We don't necessarily have to look at disorders like McLeod's to provide any further explanation.

The issue of whether or not Elizabeth remained a virgin her entire life, and why she refused to seriously entertain the idea of marriage, is one that is still hotly debated today - though I myself am not sure there is any significance, not that way it mattered whether or not Catherine of Aragon was a virgin when she married Henry. Borman discusses several theories that historians have put forth over the years, but there was one that was totally new to me. This particularly absurd rumor involved the death of the real Elizabeth at age nine after being sent to Overcourt House when a nasty case of the plague was ravaging London. Henry was due to visit, on his way in fact, when Elizabeth supposedly became ill and died. Those caring for Elizabeth combed the village for a girl who looked similar enough to her to fool the king but none could be found that was the right age except a boy. Rumor goes that the boy was dressed up in Elizabeth's clothes and from then on, for the rest of his life, he was Queen Elizabeth. This rumor probably would not have gone anywhere had a stone coffin containing a skeleton wearing remains of Tudor-period clothing not been found in the 1800s during renovations at Overcourt. Then Bram Stoker included the story in his book titled Famous Impostors and from there it just grew. Still, this is one I had not heard and seeing it addressed here again goes to show how detailed and thorough the research was.

As always, no Tudor book can be complete without at least somewhat examining the relationship of Elizabeth and her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. I always feel the need to comment on such goings-on, as this is the biggest reason why I have such a beef with Elizabeth and why I do not hold her in as high esteem as so many others do. Elizabeth's treatment of Mary is on full display here, and while Mary is by no means innocent - she certainly made some terrible choices - I feel like some of the hostility came from the basic fact that Elizabeth was jealous of her younger, more beautiful cousin. Mary took a huge risk even fleeing to England, and in the end it cost her her life. But, after being held as a prisoner for so many years, I don't blame Mary one bit for the plots she actually did encourage against Elizabeth. What did she have to lose after all, when it was clear Elizabeth would never let her go, let alone even agree to meet her face-to-face. (Not to mention, for James to be so disloyal to his mother was gross, though his excuse at least was that he had been apart from her his whole life and raised by people who hated her.) I will never believe that Elizabeth was remorseful over Mary's death. She signed the order and she knew it would be carried out because her secretaries had been clamoring for Mary's blood for years. If Elizabeth would have at any time at least owned up to the fact that her actions were purposeful, perhaps I would not loathe her so much. Not to mention that it disgusts me that Mary was not even given a proper burial and that her "corpse still lay rotting in Fotheringay Castle" five months after she was executed (page 347).

The most interesting aspect of the book to me came towards the end. I am endlessly fascinated by the women who served Elizabeth so closely, and many who served who for decades. We know so little about the lives of these women beyond what was recorded while they were in service to Elizabeth, and that was the only part of their life that mattered. I wish we could know more about them, as they often sacrificed their own personal happiness to remain at their posts in the privy chamber. I can't imagine returning to work so soon after giving birth, but I suppose in an age where the children of the nobility were not raised by their parents anyway, the loss was not felt so greatly.

Overall, this was a wonderful and insightful read about an endlessly fascinating dynasty. Not all of the stories will be new, especially for Tudorphiles, but they are still woven together to present a complete picture of a complex age. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Roaring Twenties


Rating: 3 Stars

Because of my fascination with this decade and the drastic change in lifestyles after WWI, I jumped on this one when it came up on BookBub. As sometimes happens though, I have a tendency to use that stupid "buy now with 1-click" option without thoroughly examining a book. The book ended up being far shorter than I anticipated - roughly 100-some pages on my Kindle. I wish I had paid more attention, because this one ended up feeling like an overview. The does not make it a bad book necessarily, but it was certainly not an in-depth look at a complicated period in history. The majority of the book seemed to relate to the actions of the presidents and only a small percentage covered the culture and economy that made the decade roar. Kind of disappointing for what my expectations were, but this would be perfect for someone just looking for an overview.

Charles Brandon: The King's Man


Rating: 4 Stars

This book will always have a special place in my heart as the book I ended 2016 with. If you have read some of my Tweets from the end of December, you know what a mad dash it was for me to try to get 250 books read, as that had been my Goodreads goal for the year. But on December 31st when I was still 10 books short of my goal (after devouring several quick chick lit and cozy mystery titles), I realized it was not fun to be reading crap (and a few gems) that I really did not care about. So, with a few hours left until midnight, I abandoned my plan and accepted the fact that this year I would not reach my goal. Lucky for me though, I had tons of books about all my favorite people and periods, just waiting for me to start reading about them again.

So, I started with this one and it felt so good to toss the goal aside and read books I wanted to read. I've also had the opportunity to get to know the author, Sarah Bryson, recently as we bonded over similar jobs and children's names (I mention this because I want it to be clear that while we have gotten to know one another, my review is still impartial and truthful as I see it). I am impressed with Bryson's dedication to research on her subject, but expected nothing less, as I had read her previous work about Mary Boleyn for the 'In a Nutshell' series by MadeGlobal.

Bonus: As I was reading, I was picturing Henry Cavill in my head. Even though The Tudors had other major glaring flaws, this was not one of them.

Image result for henry cavill charles brandon

Charles Brandon had a really amazing life, and no doubt some of the opportunities he was given were a direct result of the fact that his father, William Brandon, was Henry VII's standard-bearer at Bosworth where he was killed, possibly by Richard III. Charles knew Henry VIII from a young age, despite the age difference of roughly seven years, and they became the best of friends - even with some of the poor decisions Charles made over the course of his life.

Okay, so, yeah we are looking at this through a different lens. but you can't really deny that Brandon made some shady choices in the arena of marriage. His first marriage is a prime example - he's engaged to Anne Brown, but then broke it off to marry her aunt instead, as she was a 'better prospect' due to her wealth. Then he tarted selling off the aunt's lands to pocket the money and eventually had the marriage annulled based on his previous relationship with Anne, who he then went on to marry and have at least one daughter with. I get that this was not uncommon behavior in the 1500s, but it is still shady.

Then, to top it off, Brandon has the nerve to go and marry someone who is an even better "prospect": Mary Tudor, the sister of his BFF Henry VIII. This story never ceases to amaze me. I always wonder if Mary had it in her head that she was going to marry Charles, before being sent off to France to wed the near-dead Louis XII; I'm curious to know how much time they had been able to spend together prior to her arranged marriage and how early they showed an interest in one another. Either way, whether it was a before or after thought, the two were married before arriving back in England after Louis XII's death and big surprise, Henry was piiiiiissed. Never mind the fact that he had supposedly promised Mary that she could choose her own husband the next time around. Either he forgot this little fact, or was so incensed that his sister and BFF went behind his back - which was also treason, btw. You know, marrying someone of royal blood without permission fro the king and all. Brandon was very lucky to have had Wolsey intervene on his behalf with Henry, or he could have been executed. Instead, he had to pay a rather substantial fine, and all was well again, more or less. As an aside, Brandon was one to switch loyalty when it best suited him. As Court slowly turned on Wolsey for not being able to secure the divorce for Henry, I was glad to see that Brandon was so against Henry marrying Anne. Unfortunately, though he supported Henry doing what he wanted to do, he no longer supported Wolsey, the man who had literally saved his life.

Mary died young though, before she turned 40, and of course Brandon would go on to marry again. This time he wed Catherine Willoughby, who was roughly 14 to his 49. I can't help but feel how opportunistic he was in his marriage dealings. Though, it was a trait that served him well throughout his life, though he seems a bit unscrupulous at times in said dealings and his constant need of money. Brandon and Catherine had two sons, and I had no idea that they had died so young, or even that they died of the sweating sickness. I've always had these glimpses of Brandon when reading other Tudor-period books, but this is the first that I have read that is dedicated solely to Brandon. So many gaps have been filled in for me and I am much more knowledgeable about him specifically now. As for these two sons, I found this quote especially poignant:

"With the death of Henry and Charles Brandon on 14 July, 1551 Brandon's direct name and bloodline ceased. The title of Duke of Suffolk went to Brandon's son-in-law, Henry Grey, husband of Frances Brandon" (55%)

And we all know where THAT went...I see you, Jane Grey.

The author makes fantastic use of several contemporary sources throughout the book. She uses letters written by Brandon, as well as the papal bull that was issued to legitimize his marriage to Mary. The author addresses Brandon's will also and I would like to see it in its entirety. I love that so many of these documents have survived these centuries of civil wars, revolutions and reformations. That we can read these words, written so long ago, is breathtaking - especially when we have the originals and not just copies. I doubt Charles Brandon would have ever believed that 500 years on, people would be so interested in learning about him. To me, portraiture also falls into this category, as highly important documentation. We know for sure certain portraits are of Brandon - at least we are sure we're sure - while others are guesses at best. If only every single artist would have just signed every piece of work they'd ever done and then labeled the portrait with the sitter's name! But that is too much to ask I suppose, and the mystery is half the fun.

One can not tell the story of Henry's BFF without also relating some facts in relation to Anne Boleyn's trial, given that Brandon served on the jury that convicted her. Some authors and historians are so blind to Anne's faults that they suggest incorrectly that yellow was the color of mourning in Spain and that is why she and Henry wore yellow when Catherine of Aragon died. I'm glad to see Bryson dismisses this nonsense as well because there is no way Anne would have even been able to pretend she was in mourning for Catherine. If anything, she knew just how much more tenuous her position had become if she did not have a son. I also felt it was very wise of the author to include the indictment of Anne without going into too many details and detract from who the book was really about. The indictment was presented in a bulleted format for the reader, which is highly beneficial for those wanting to know more about the charges against Anne, but not eager to read the pages and pages of information. Obviously Anne was innocent of most of the charges, but Brandon and every other man sitting on the jury knew that there could be no other verdict but guilty.

At the end of his life, it does not really surprise me that Charles Brandon's wishes in his will were ignored by none other than his BFF Henry VIII. Instead of his own request, Brandon was buried at St. George's Chapel at Windsor, the same place where Henry would one day be laid to rest, along with his "most beloved" wife Jane (i.e. the only one who gave him a son and then had the courtesy to die before he grew tired of her). So, in the end, it begs the question as to why Brandon was so successful in surviving life in Henry's court when so many others did not. The author addresses this question specifically in one of the final chapters and to me, it was because Charles was the ultimate yes-man. I do not mean this in a negative way. Brandon survived while so many other men and women met untimely and gruesome ends because, as Bryson says, "Brandon's greatest quality was not his skill and jousting, nor was it a success in military campaigns, it was his ability to read his king and know how to respond appropriately" (63%). I personally take from this and feel that Brandon was far intelligent than some have given him credit for, especially when saying he preferred physical activities to educational ones. Basically, in public Brandon went along with whatever Henry thought or wanted, despite what he personally might have felt was right or wrong. Those discussions could be in private between the two friends, but never public. This characteristic served Brandon well and he profited from it.

At 63% the main body of text is complete, but there are several section after that are just as useful and informative. The author includes a section called 'Places of Interest', which I love because there are so many Tudor places that still exist that I can't wait to see. Along with this was visitor information. After that is a timeline of Brandon's life and the important events that occurred throughout. I found both the bibliography and notes sections to be incredibly thorough. Again, it shows the commitment to research. I was happy to see both books I have already read and a few new ones to add to my TBR list.

Overall, I highly recommend this book both for those interested in the Tudors in passing, and those like me who are on a mission to read any and every Tudor book we can get our hands on. In this one, the man Charles Brandon becomes real, instead of just the sidekick. This is a must-read.

First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama


Rating: 3 Stars

Hooray! Book one in my quest to read more about all of our presidents. I am not sure why this has suddenly become so interesting to me. Perhaps because of the absolute cluster my country is in right now in electing someone so unqualified for the job, we may actually be involved in a nuclear war as a result. As a result, I guess I want to learn as much as I can about the men who WERE qualified, more or less.

This was a good place to start, as it was about multiple presidents. However, I wavered a while between two and three stars due to a plethora of snarky comments throughout. They seemed kind of out of place for a book that was purporting to look at these men both as fathers and presidents, and how that combination made them better or worse at the job. I will also freely admit that I may have been a little sensitive to those directed at President Obama, considering we are within his last week in office, and for the next four years we won't have a president, but a spoiled child who fights with people on Twitter.

But I digress.

The book is divided into six chapters, for six kinds of dads as the author has grouped them. Each chapter then follows roughly the same format, as the author opens with several pages dedicated to one president and how he fit in the specific mold as the author described. Then the author addressed several other presidents in shorter paragraphs, before returning to the initial president discussed, or then moving on to another president again in greater detail.

Chapter One: The Preoccupied

Here the author delves into the lives of FDR, LBJ, and Jimmy Carter quite deeply. From what I interpret, the author considers a preoccupied dad to be one who was away from his children for long periods of time and/or focused almost solely on himself and his political career.

The author really seemed to have it in for LBJ. He kept describing him as self-absorbed, egotistical, etc. There were a lot of sweeping generalizations and no back-up for how he arrived at these conclusions. I really used to dislike LBJ also, but I read a book a few months ago about him and JFK that has started to change my perspective, and to see how much the Kennedy Machine contributed to the negatives about LBJ being put forth. He is not perfect by any means, but I do think he has been judged unfairly.

Additional presidents addressed in shorter paragraphs include Jimmy Carter, Martin Van Buren, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Chapter Two: Playful Pals

The in-depth looks in this chapter focus on Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson. I was especially surprised to see Wilson in this chapter, as in the past he has struck be as anything but playful. The author addresses this issue though, saying that Wilson was very different with his children, a side the public rarely, if ever, saw.

This chapter is where the lack of footnotes or references to research began to bother me. At one point the author states that, in regards to Grant, "...but he drank not because he was an anti-social misfit, but because he was a sensitive family man who simply could not stand to be without his nearest and dearest" (page 73). This may be true, but how did the author come to this conclusion? Perhaps I am in the minority, but I feel like when an author makes statements like this, it is probably a good idea to indicate where in the notes section this information can be found. (Also, the misuse of the word anti-social irritates me, but that is unrelated. If someone does not like to socialize, they are NON-social. Someone who is anti-social seeks to disrupt society by not following rules, norms, laws, etc. But seeing as how anti-social usage has become the norm for someone non-social, I think this is a lost cause.)

The author considers James Buchanan, Chester A. Arthur, and George W. Bush to also be playful pals to their children, in that they were permissive type parents who didn't set boundaries for their children and as a result: " Alan Arthur, Grant's two younger sons Ulysses Jr and Jesse, as well as TR's son Kermit, would remain irresponsible well into adulthood and never find a meaningful purpose for their lives" (page 78)

Chapter Three: Double-Dealing Dads

First of all, I never knew John Tyler was so gross. He had a bunch of kids with his slaves, allegedly threw sex parties at the White House, and is the only president to ever be a traitor to his own country when he sided with the Confederacy (up until the Screaming Cheeto takes office on the 20th. Typing those words made me throw up in my mouth a little. Ugh.) I can not imagine a worse crime, once one has been president; Tyler was one of five former presidents still alive when the Civil War began and the ONLY one to support the Confederacy and hold an office when he was elected to the Confederate Congress. So, yeah, gross. Additionally, there were several pages each devoted to Grover Cleveland and Warren G. Harding.

To qualify as a double-dealing parent, he must be someone who has betrayed his children in some way, specifically those children he fathered outside his marriage(s). As such, Kennedy and Clinton, whose sexual exploits are well-documented, were not included in this chapter because they were 'caring parents' - and as far as we know (though I have a hard time believing) they had no children outside of their marriages. To cement this idea, the author states, "...but not every president who pursued numerous extramarital affairs qualifies as a double-dealing dad - defined as one who betrays his children" (139). Again, children born outside of his marriage. As I read on, an additional qualifier emerged as to what made a 'double-dealing dad'. With the example of Millard Fillmore, he remarried and had more children with his second wife. As the relationship with his children from his first marriage became strained, he eventually disinherited them.

Other dads mentioned in this chapter include Thomas Jefferson, William Henry Harrison and even possibly George Washington and Andrew Johnson. Also, Millard Fillmore, LBJ, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland and Warren Harding

I really, really hope NOT George Washington, as there was a time he was my favorite president. But as I have learned more about him in my adult years, the shiny veneer on our first president is fading a bit and I am not sure I could handle finding out anything else about him that is less than savory. Ultimately, there is no evidence beyond stories passed down from generation to generation, so until there is something concrete, he does not qualify.

Chapter Four: Tiger Dads

This chapter was devoted to presidents who, as fathers, were very tough on their children in regards to academics especially. These fathers were very controlling and specific about what they wanted their children to do and to be. Specific presidents who were given several pages to show this were John Adams, John Quincy Adams (no surprise there, considering how his father treated him, and the behaviors of his siblings), and Dwight Eisenhower. It took me a bit with the last chapter and this chapter to identify what exactly the author meant by his labels. It is not as straight forward as one might think sometimes, and trying to decipher the author's specific meaning took a bit of thinking.

Chapter Five: The Grief-Stricken

While the topic of children dying is a sad one, and not something I want to spend a lot of time thinking about because I ALWAYS over-identify and think about how horrible it would be to be in that position, the chapter begins with Franklin Pierce. This was a good thing in that so far, I have not found any books about him. Even so, I would not wish anyone into this category, as no parent should ever have to bury their child. After several pages devoted to Pierce, William McKinley and Calvin Coolidge were also given ample amounts of space.

Shorter paragraphs and mentions include John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, William Henry Harrison, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield, Rutherford B Hayes, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, JFK, Grover Cleveland, FDR, Chester Alan Arthur, Andrew Johnson, and Ronald Reagan.

Chapter Six: The Nurturers

The final chapter begins with an in-depth look at Rutherford B Hayes and his dedication to his children. Truman was also given several pages, and the author ended the chapter with analysis of Barack Obama and his daughters.

Other presidents who garnered attention in this category included Washington, Madison, Monroe, Garfield, and Ford.

Once again though, here the snarkiness reared its ugly head when the author stated, "Unlike preoccupied First Dads such as FDR and LBJ, who loved the spotlight and could not stop thinking about politics, Hayes was a homebody who enjoyed immersing himself in the daily lives of his children" (page 297). These kinds of comments are what made me take this author a little less seriously, because he comes across as biased toward or against certain presidents.

The two comments directed at President Obama were poorly timed - perhaps I should not have been reading this book so close to the end of his term because I really am emotional about this right now.

First: "At times, Obama, too, has been blinded by the unrealistic hope that gentle persuasion was all that was needed to achieve his political goals" (page 346). I think we all needed a little hope after the eight years of W, and if we didn't, Obama would not have been elected twice. Obama's legacy is already beginning to be dismantled as we speak, with what Congress has started doing to ACA. Had Congress been willing to compromise and work with President Obama, instead of stalling him at every turn, our country would be in much better shape right now.

But the second is by far the worse of the two. "Was Obama perhaps too devoted a parent to be a great president?" (page 347). Hell. No. Even with having his hands tied repeatedly by Congress, President Obama will be looked at very favorably in history as one of our greatest presidents.

All in all, I learned quite a bit about most of the men who have guided our country since its birth. Most of these stories made them very human, instead of the almost infallible figures the more distant ones have become. I would still recommend the book in that regards, though I could have done without some of the snide comments.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges


Rating: 1.5 Stars

People I want to punch in the throat: Jen Mann.

The f-bombs weren't offensive, but the rubbish that passes as humor in this book is. Disappointing and not nearly as funny as I heard it was or hoped it would be. Not much else to say, except that I find it mildly fucking ridiculous that they needed to go to fucking marriage counseling after six fucking months of marriage because neither of them wants to clean the fucking toilets. See, I can say fuck a lot too for no reason and get my point across just like the author. Thank goodness this was only $.99.

Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids


Rating: 2.5 Stars

I received a free digital copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of this book was interesting, but I felt like the execution was lacking. I worked as s substitute after getting my Bachelor's in elementary education, to see which schools I might like to work at. I then had a one-year contract and subbed more after that while working on my Master's in Special Education. Since graduating with my second degree, I have been employed full time in the Behavior Skills Program, a self-contained classroom within an elementary school for students with identified behavior disorders/emotional disturbances. As a result of my experience in being both a sub and a full-time educator, I know both sides very well. I've had days just like those he described in the first few chapters, but for this first bit I could not quite put my finger on what was lacking. The further I read, it became clear: we were getting minute-by-minute accounts of each day, from the early-AM call through the last bell of the day, but there was no real reflection on any of the days or what he learned from it about the state of education in the US today. 

As an aside, I find it alarming that in Maine one merely has to take one evening class, get fingerprinted, and boom, you're a sub. At least here, someone who is not in the field of education can only sub a limited number of days at least. Though it has been 5 years since I have subbed, so things may have changed.

I could readily identify with Baker when he said he felt like he had taught nothing all day. For the times I was in a one-day subbing position I felt like that also. Luckily, I rarely had those. I had several friends who worked at the same middle school as 6th grade teachers, and three of them had babies within two years, so I was lucky to get long-term positions and really get to know the kids. The other teachers on the team then began requesting me as well, and at one point I had subbed there so often that half the kids thought I was a staff member. This went on for three years and by the end of that time, I had strong relationships built with 8th, 7th, and 6th graders because I had subbed so long. As a result of the long-term jobs, I did teach new content - a lot of it. But in those random one day jobs, definitely not. As an educator myself, going on five years now in my position within the Behavior Skills Program, I very, very rarely leave any sub plans that involves subs teaching new concepts. It is not that I don't think they're capable, but it's the way kids are educated today. Unfortunately, particularly in math, students are taught even simple things like one and two digit multiplication in ridiculous, complex ways. They are expected to solve the problems that way on tests, not in ways we were taught 10-20 years ago.

If you have read any previous reviews, you might also know that I am wary of re-created conversations. Unless an author is recording the conversation or taking exhaustive notes, there is no way conversations are 100% accurate - especially considering the volume of those that exist in this book. There is simply no way he would even have had time to take notes, considering how much time he had to spend devoted to the actual students. So, I will go out on a limb and say they have to be fictionalized accounts, at least somewhat.

There also came a point where the book simply got repetitive. Each day started the same - the wake-up call from dispatch, driving to the school, the endless days, and so on and so on. I eventually started skimming, for a couple reasons. One being the repetitiveness as I mentioned, but also partly because I have already lived a lot of days like this. Some I am happy to recall, some not so much.

In the end, I will be the first to say that subbing is a tough gig. I subbed for a long time and there were specific schools and classrooms I would refuse to return to. I was just hoping for something with a little more thoughtful reflection on how an outsider views our educational system and a lot less repetition.

Friday, January 13, 2017

It's First Line Friday!

This week my First Line is from Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment, and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hill by Mark Lee Gardner. I am also cheating a little bit and actually using the LAST lines of the prologue, because I think it sets the book up nicely and I am super excited to read it.

"They share the truth of an experience that only those who were there can truly know. As part of a regiment of southwestern cowpunchers, Oklahoma Indians, Ivy League football stars, and champion polo players, they had faced death boldly and defeated the enemy.

They had been Rough Riders."

Leave a comment below with your line and then visit my fellow First-Liners to see what they have for you this week!

Rachel - Bookworm Mama

Robin - Robin's Nest

If you want to play along, let Carrie know!

Happy Reading,

Sunday, January 8, 2017



Hidden Figures is on sale at Amazon right now for $1.99 (Kindle Edition). I am thoroughly obsessed with NASA and the Space Program and I am so excited for this book and movie. You can get it HERE for a limited time!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In


Rating: 5 Stars

I'll give you a fair warning right off the bat, this will probably get political real fast. If you are exhausted by the absolute shit-storm that is our country right now, welcome. If you are happy with the outcome of the election, we honestly don't have much to say to each other. I'm not going to change anyone's mind, nor is anyone going to change mine. Senator Sanders was the best candidate for the job and the DNC shot themselves in the foot by running the least popular candidate they could against the buffoon that the GOP was forced to support.

Basically, Senator Sanders is the only presidential candidate I have ever truly been inspired by from start to finish - I mean this in terms of from the beginnings of the campaign when I was first finding out about him and his platform, up to/through/beyond the election. He is the first candidate I have ever caucused for. He is the first candidate I have ever donated money to (multiple times), the first candidate for whom I have bought signs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc. I was even lucky enough to attend a rally here the Friday before the election, after which he came down the line of those of us in the front row and I got to shake his hand and talk to him, while I also ugly-cried and snapped a selfie of us, all while also telling him how much we love him.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have nothing by the utmost respect for President Obama and it will be a sad day for me when he and the First Lady are no longer gracing the White House with their class and intelligence - AND humor. President Obama is funny AF. Mic drop, anyone?

It also has a lot to do with Senator Sanders' opposition vs President Obama's. I proudly voted for President Obama twice and would vote for him again if possible. But I never felt like if he were to lose, our country would be in serious jeopardy. That is completely the opposite of what I feel like in this election aftermath. I have grave concerns about our country's future with the "administration" coming in soon.

I suppose I should get to the book itself though. This is less a review and more of just a venting session because I am beyond frustrated with the current state of affairs. As it stands, there is nothing new here, though it is all still ground-breaking because his vision for our country was so broad and far-reaching and inclusive. There are numerous excerpts from his speeches, news articles, and the like. The are multiple pictures of him and his team out on the campaign trail, talking with voters, and doing everything he needed to do to win the nomination. He explains his life growing up, his first foray into politics, life during the campaign, and then a large section is devoted chapter by chapter to his policies and positions on issues that will impact us all, Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives.

I totally don't care if this makes me sound crazy, but while I was reading, it was not my own voice I was hearing. I was reading the book and hearing it in Senator Sanders' voice. So, basically, he was reading the book to me. And it was awesome. They were words I already knew so well, because of the multiple speeches and interviews I watched, time and again, all through the Primary Season.

The book made me both happy and sad at the same time. Happy, in that here again is proof that I supported the candidate who was best fit to guide our nation through these troubling years. Sad because, of course, he ultimately did not win the nomination. But I would gladly campaign and caucus for him again. I would not change a minute of time or a single dollar spent.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

First Line Friday!

Hooray for First Line Friday!

This week my first line is from Tracy Borman's amazing and wonderful new book, The Private Lives of the Tudors.

" 'I do not live in a corner. A thousand eyes see all I do.' This telling lament by Elizabeth I begs the question: did the Tudors have a private life at all? As monarchs, they were constantly surrounded by an army of attendants, courtiers, ministers, and place-seekers. Even in their most private moments, they were accompanied by a servant specifically appointed for the task."

Okay, so sue me, it is a couple sentences. Leave a comment below with your first line this week, then head over to my fellow First Liners' blogs to see what they have for you.

Rachel - Bookworm Mama

Robin - Robin's Nest

Happy Reading!

Goodnight Brew: A Parody for Beer People


Rating: 4 Stars

For the record, I am not actually a 'beer person' anymore, especially now that I have a child - nor was I ever really. I was much more a Whiskey Girl.

My favorite museum here has been running the exhibit "American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" that ends on the 29th of January. It is fantastic and has a lot of neat, interactive pieces that tell both points of view. Luckily, our museum also always has a bomb collection of books in relation to the traveling exhibits and this was one of the treasures I snagged today (half off too, since the books and other items get discounted in the final weeks of the exhibit). Not only was this a cute, adult parody of my beloved 'Goodnight Moon', but the last pages included some 'brew basics' and a section dedicated to the differences between lagers and ales. Worth the $8.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York


Rating: 4 Stars

I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Okay, truth time: I had this books for MONTHS before I finally finished it, back in July. I am not quite sure why it has taken me so long to review. Maybe because it took me a bit to get into in the first place. Once the author got into the story specifically about Gluck and the Santa Claus Association, my interest was piqued and I could not put it down. It just took a bit. And I understand the WHY, as we had to get to know who Gluck was before swindling money out of the New York City elite, but it still was not nearly as interesting as the scheme he ended up running.

To be totally honest, you kind of have to admire the lengths that Gluck went to in order to run the Santa Claus Association as a legit operation. Yes, stealing money was wrong and he deserved the consequences of his actions, but the association itself seemed to really do a lot of good for the children they served - while he unfortunately lined his pockets with fundraiser money. I don't understand why any of the wealthy people who donated to Gluck's association for postage - giving more than enough to cover postage for the season - never noticed or asked why he continually asked for funds for postage. I mean, come on. That should have been the first red flag. I suppose people only wanted to see the good Gluck was doing in providing toys and gifts for the poor children of the city, and did not want to believe he would use the association to then enrich himself. There came a point even when Gluck had grand plans to build a new massive headquarters to house the Santa Claus Association and all the volunteers who helped out, yet he had just been $3,000 in debt. The author states, "At such a thrilling time in New York City, it did not seem ridiculous to trust the Santa Claus Man but rather, ridiculous to doubt him" (40%).

I would agree with the author's statement that Gluck did not solely care about the money itself. Instead, he wanted to be perceived as a great man. This is why he added 'Esquire' to his name, the extra L to Duval, and so on. Unfortunately to be a 'great man', he needed money to help give the illusion of greatness.

There are so many twists and turns to this story, you may not even believe me if I were to include them all here. Gluck went all out in order to fund-raise for the association and it is sometimes jaw-dropping to see what he got away with. It took 15 years for the Santa Claus Association to come under intense scrutiny and investigation. And yet again, as the investigation went on, no one who donated money to the building fund asked why no progress had been made, despite a number of years passing since Gluck's announcement of his intention to have a new headquarters. Literally nothing had been done, despite huge donations pouring in.

In addition to focusing on Gluck and his scheme, this book is an interesting look at how Christmas really came to be celebrated in the US, starting in NYC. We see this, as well as the first Christmas tree for the entire city and Macy's first large parades. There is much to learn here about how we came to celebrate in the way we do today.

The text ended at 81% and the rest of the book contained a timeline of Santa Claus in New York, as well as tidbits about Santa and NYC starting in 1804. After the timeline, from 81% to the end, contained a lengthy notes section. The author clearly did his research about all aspects of the subject and it shows. Definitely recommended.

First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies


Rating: 3 Stars

I finished this book back in July right before the Democratic National Convention began, and that much is obvious as I look back over my notes and my grumblings about Hillary Clinton at various points. This book and I were off to a rocky start immediately, when the introduction opened with a quote from Clinton, then went into a meeting between Jackie Kennedy and Hillary.

However, as the book went on, I was able to put some of that aside as the author relayed some very interesting stories about this exclusive club. In fact, she used an analogy that I feel is quite spot-on, saying that presidents are part of a lifelong club in the most selective fraternity in the world. As a result, First Ladies are members of the world's most elite sorority (And thus, it makes me want to vomit that Melania will get that membership. Gross.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though I might have had a less than stellar impression of their husbands, many of the First Ladies seem like women I would love to have lunch with. The author looks at all the First Ladies, from Jackie through Michelle and I feel like I know them so much better as a result. Though I was no fan of W for his eight long, horrible years in the White House, I really like Laura Bush. Is that weird? Kind of, I think. I have always like Michelle Obama and would love to go shopping with her, but her quote in regards to being a mother made me admire her even more: "I'm only as good as my most sad child" (page 20).

Jackie's story of her beginnings in the White House would not have been complete without a look at how Mamie Eisenhower introduced her to the place. Before her tour of the White House, Jackie had recently been released from the hospital after giving birth to JFK Jr via c-section. Jackie had requested a wheelchair, but Mamie wanted to give her the tour alone and also did not want to be seen pushing Jackie around the house, so she ordered the wheelchair be available, but out of sight and to let Jackie use it only if she asked about it. Of course Jackie did not ask, when she did not see one readily available, and so she was left in quite a tremendous amount of pain when the tour was over. It is no wonder that our country is in its current state, given the pettiness of some.

Even though this book was about ALL the First Ladies from Jackie on, I myself have a special place in my heart for the Kennedys, though the more I read about JFK/LBJ, the more my opinion on them men is shifting. I really was happy to see that Jackie and Lady Bird Johnson got along so much better than Jack and LBJ. It seems like she really cared about the Kennedy children, and Jackie too. I really feel sorry for Lady Bird, more than anyone else. She seemed to really admire Jackie and was hesitant to do anything that might give the impression that she didn't. I feel bad for her, because I do not think the Kennedys treated the Johnsons very well. That then makes me question how much truth there is to the things that JFK and Bobby said in regards to LBJ, how they did not like him, didn't want him on the ticket for JFK's second term, etc. I feel like as a result of the Kennedy Machine building up JFK's legacy, it was at the expense of LBJ's reputation. He was by no means perfect, and definitely had flaws, but some of the things going on were completely out of his control, and there are many good things that he did which are overlooked today. I'd love to know why Bobby hated hated LBJ so much, but I do not know enough about the politics at the time, and obviously a book about the First Ladies is not going to shed much light on the subject.

One bone I have to pick was the repeated use of John-John to refer to JFK Jr. I thought it was already cleared up that this was NOT his family nickname and a reporter mistakenly thought JFK was calling him that one day. Isn't that what happened? That's the story I remember anyway.

Though I have only touched on a couple of the women discussed in the book, I found this to be interesting and valuable. The book is not told in a linear fashion, as it more so examines the relationships between the First Ladies; it does not simply tell of their accomplishments in chronological order as their husbands governed. I liked that way of telling their stories, though some might be bothered by it. This book would be a good place to start if you know very little about the First Ladies.

Cesare Borgia in a Nutshell


Rating: 2 Stars

The book serves its purpose, which is to provide basic facts about the subject matter. I have read several of the "In a Nutshell" books now, and intend to read more, but this one was not up to the standard that I have come to expect from the series. The writing itself was the issue at times, while there were incidents of repetition; it was simply not as professional as I expected.

The editing is what really sunk this book for me however, as there are numerous sentences that never should have made their way into a final manuscript.

"...With reports making their way back to Rome that since his death she seemed to have aged at least three times her age" (46%).

"...There is no evidence at all that he had gotten mad at all" (65%).

"Did he hide his ravaged face behind a mask? Probably not. Did he wear a mask? Yes, but it was more likely to keep himself disguised so he wouldn't be noticed, not to hide a blotched face away" (66%).

The first two are more examples of lack of editing, but the third is such a cluster of clunky, awkward sentences that it requires more than a quick dash of the editing pen. And to be fair, I'm pretty sure my attention would definitely be drawn to a dude in a mask if I thought that Cesare Borgia was lurking around nearby.

On a positive note, it is clear that the author has done a fair amount of research on her subject. The facts themselves are not the issue, and she appears to have a deep interest in Cesare and his family, and what I read here mostly coincides with what I have read elsewhere.

This book had the potential to be a valuable resource for quick information, and in that respect the book is passable. But the editing process should have been more thorough, as those sentences had no business in a final draft. Perhaps another round of editing would make this one a better read.  Until then, I can only recommend it with caution.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Catherine Carey in a Nutshell


Rating: 4 Stars

This one was on par with exactly what I expect from the "In a Nutshell" series. For those figures in history who still intrigue us across the centuries, yet not a lot in the way of concrete evidence is known, these short gems are just what we need. While it may be tempting to try to fill 300 pages with "must haves" and "probablies", that really does not give us any more than a book like this would. Of course we would always love to know more, but in some instances, it is simply not possible. Catherine Carey is just such a figure. We know some, given her close proximity to key figures of the time, but not nearly as much as we would like - including a definitive answer to the is she/is she not Henry VIII's illegitimate daughter.

So, let's get that bit out of the way right off, shall we? Basically, there is just as much evidence one way as the other. I doubt we will every find a document that gives the nod to either - nor do I see any DNA testing being authorized for this purpose. Given the technology we have today, it seems like as good a use as any, considering how long historians have been debating this. But alas, perhaps it is something destined to remain unknown, so what I can say is that I appreciate the author addressing both sides, then leaving it alone and addressing other aspects of Carey's life. Sometimes authors and historians like to harp on a single controversial point, but that does not happen here. While I personally do not believe Catherine's brother Henry was a child of Henry VIII (why would he not claim him, as he did his son by Bessie Blount? Especially if the affair was carrying on BEFORE Henry then set his sights on Anne?) Anyway, the point is, I can be persuaded either way, as there is evidence for both, which the author provides, then leaves the reader to draw their own conclusion.

While this remains the single most identifying factor in signaling Catherine Carey out as someone to continue pondering even centuries later, I like that the author made a point to address who Catherine was, despite the paternity question:

"Catherine was more than just the possible illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII. She was a mother, a sister, and a wife. She was a religious reformer, a trusted confidant and a loyal friend. It is time to finally bring Catherine's story out of the darkness and into the light" (3%).

I have read more than my fair share of books about the Tudors, so I had a good idea about the basics of Catherine Carey's life, but this book so nicely filled in the little gaps of knowledge that I did not actually know existed. For instance, I had no idea she was so involved in the religious reformation going on, that she and her children resided in Germany during Mary I's reign, and only returned when Elizabeth I ascended to the throne. In regards to the children alone, I had no idea that so many lived to adulthood - quite the remarkable feat for the time period when giving birth was a dangerous business. It was also reassuring to learn that after Catherine passed away her husband, Francis Knollys, did not remarry despite outliving her by 27 years. In a time where marriages were made to increase land, wealth, and status, it is always a pleasant surprise to find a couple who likely were genuinely in love. Despite however the marriage might have been suggested or come about, it seems they truly did love and care for one another.

One thing readers should keep in mind going into this one is that the story is not exactly told in a linear fashion. Instead, chapters are divided into various aspects of Catherine Carey's life. For example, one of the sections I was most interested in began at 62% and was dedicated to Catherine and her brother Henry. I do not mind when texts jump around like that, as I have a pretty good knowledge base of the period. Some might find it distracting though.

Anyone who has read any of my previous reviews involving the Tudors knows that I care little for Anne Boleyn. I prefer Mary, who seemed a bit like the black sheep of the family, for many reasons (most importantly of course being that I tend to follow Eustace Chapuys' line of thought in referring to her as 'the Concubine'). It is for that reason that little gems like this bring a smile to my face:

"Catherine's legacy lives on in the descendants of her 14 children, one of whom occupies the British throne today" (76%).

Ha, take that Anne! It is Mary's descendants on the throne, not yours!

The text itself ends at 76%, followed by a slew of primary and secondary sources, which were highly useful. I also appreciated the decent amount of photographs used throughout. Though of course, the farther you get from the throne, the less sure we are of proper identifications of portraits - especially in cases were only copies have survived.

Overall this is another book in the series that I can recommend to those interested in the period. The author does a wonderful job taking the information we have and at least painting the broad strokes of Catherine's life, with some details, so we have a fairly clear view of her through time. Definitely recommended.